| August 21, 2012

The movie that Whitney Houston fans everywhere have been waiting for is now playing in wide release. Sparkle is another movie about a girl group who just happens to live in Detroit and who aspire for the big time in the music field. It is a remake of the original 1976 film starring Lonette McGee, Irene Cara, Mary Alice, Phillip Michael Thomas and Dorian Harewood, among others.  But this time the girl group’s mother, Emma, is played by the late Houston and the starring gem in the group—Sparkle—is played by Jordin Sparks of American Idol fame. I loved this version of Sparkle, if not for the screenplay itself, then for the soundtrack that could surely hold up on its own.

In Houston’s last film role—which parallels her life in so many ways—before her death this past February, she plays a stern, God-fearing mother of three daughters who is holding on tight to keep her girls on the straight and narrow, even after the oldest girl—Sister—returns home after a failed marriage. Emma is extra protective and beating them with the Bible every chance she gets, because she had attempted a hand at secular musical glory and things came crashing down on her. Derek Luke plays Stix, Mike Epps plays Satin and Carmen Ejogo is Sister, the older, divorced sister who is led astray by the bling that Satin is throwing around. But Satin also throws Sister around, as well as gets her strung out on dope, in a performance that would make the late Ike Turner take notice.

Since Emma is against anything that doesn’t occur in the church, the sisters are relegated to sneaking out to go to local clubs and entering into talent shows. After a while, Stix takes a liking to Sparkle and discovers the trio and hopes to land them bigger gigs that could eventually lead to a recording contract. After all, they are in Detroit and Stix figures that Berry Gordy is no longer as hungry as he is to make a buck.

This Sparkle shines in more ways than one and is nostalgic at the same time. The wardrobe from the late 60’s is just fabulous, and the homage to Black Power Movement with the Afro worn by Tika Sumpter, the sister who would rather be in medical school already, is well received. The group is trying to make it as Detroit is burning during the 1968 riots. There is much despair, but the real issue is a mother who doesn’t have much interest in her daughters ever working in show business, simply because of the hand that she has been dealt. Although Houston is good as the mean, overbearing mother; I didn’t see any great acting on her part. But given the sad circumstances around her sudden death, I suppose some will see her part as something really special. Even though there were sad parts in the movie and the era would, for some, be seen as struggling, I wish the proud climate of that time could be swapped with the climate that permeates black, urban America today.

The soundtrack to Sparkle is also something noteworthy. After hearing Marvin Gaye and Smokey on some cuts, and “Something He Can Feel” and “Hooked” from the original movie, I was floored when toward the end Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” plays in a scene where Sparkle pulls out all the stops to prove to Columbia Records that she has what it takes as a songwriter and performer.

Of course, if there is a preacher, Sunday dinner and a choir singing, mega preacher and faith-based movie producer Bishop T.D. Jakes must be involved, as he is an Executive Producer for this film, with R & B singer R. Kelly helping out with some of the music. Sparkle is playing in theaters everywhere.

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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